Learning to Fly

“What if I fall? Oh, but my darling what if you fly?” -Erin Hansen

I came to Yosemite without having climbed more than one pitch (one rope length, 60 or 70 meters), without the knowledge of traditional and aid climbing gear, and without the techniques used in crack climbing. What I am doing now, a little over a month later, is breaking into the world of trad lead.

Pebble Wrestling
Pebble Wrestling

This new world is filled with daring excitement but beyond this it comes with much more: mentorship, community, encouragement, and generosity. A question that I was asked a few weeks back was “Why hadn’t I started leading yet?” Physically, I was capable of it. My answer and perhaps excuse was “I’ve only been following for three weeks or so,” or “I still need to become more familiar with the gear.” These responses are valid but I knew my reluctance went deeper. Self-doubt hung over me, the daunting “What if?” questions rang through my body, and I wasn’t sure how to allow people to be patient with me. Learning all the small skills takes time and it creates an extremely SLOW process.

For at least a week now, Jamie, Yuval, and the Australians have returned to their lives back home. I, on the other hand, remain at Camp 4 and exist inside the ever evolving community. I was introduced to, “The Crew,” before Yuval left and since then they have shared climbing experiences and fully welcomed me as one of their own. Now, what is “The Crew?” They are pretty much a group of climbers that all arrived in Yosemite alone and became friends. It is a big crew to say the least. If you are in Yosemite climbing alone and “The Crew” meets you, you are part of “The Crew.”  Simply as that.

Dave teaching me about jumars
Dave teaching me about jumars

Dave is one of the above individuals. He has been mentoring and climbing with me during my preliminary trad lead endeavors and has been incredibly patient. Yesterday, we climbed “The Grack,” a beautiful three pitch, 5.6 finger crack that was thrilling for me to lead. The sun engulfed the wall during the first pitch as I fumbled with gear to test what piece fit into the given spots. I meandered up the wall, trailing a second rope for the rappel, until I reached the belay station. My next task was to build an anchor. I took note of the gear I had on my harness and what would fit into the crack but nothing matched up. With nothing but my remaining gear, my creativity, and Dave’s patience I started to build an anchor solely out of nuts (passive gear but bomber when it successfully gets stuck in the rock). After the anchor was complete, I began hauling up the trail rope and then the rope Dave was attached to. Dave just sat there about 100 feet below me and would yell up, “Everything going okay?” after an extended period of time. I’m sure the underlying thought was actually, “What is taking so long?” but you wouldn’t be able to tell with his demeanor. It was finally time for him to start climbing but instead he walked up most of the first pitch. Yes, the first pitch was very low angle and so incredibly easy for him that he walked up the rock. While he nonchalantly did so, I frantically tried to pull up the rope through the belay device but to no prevail. He met me at the belay station and I just looked at him and said,” We’re never going to get off the rock with me leading.” I had become disheartened by my snail like pace and felt bad for having Dave stand/sit in the sun waiting for me. We agreed he’d lead the second pitch and in a blur we both were at the next belay station. The third and final pitch was my time to shine! The finger crack called my name and I was focused and ready to go. The climbing looked thin (possibly not too many opportunities for gear placement) but it was happening. The finger crack was solid and I knew I had the technique for this type of climbing. The cams that I had available to me were all too large so I whipped out the nuts from my back gear loop and began sizing them in the crack. First one rips out when I yank on it, no good. I try a different size and this time it holds strong. To double check the gear, I pull at it and try to rip it from the rock but it stands firm, solid. Near the top, the crack starts to disappear and a slab is the only way to reach the top. When climbing slab you use friction to stay on the wall, no holds, and this type of climbing is my least favorite. You have to trust the friction of your feet to stay on the wall and I do not trust my feet. Bailing is not an option so I inch my way up the wall and start singing to myself. I sing, “Gotta trust my feet,” over and over again, under my breath, to a catchy beat. After several moves, I grab a solid hold and pull myself from my furnace of adversity. The bolted anchors are now above me and after Dave climbs up to meet me at the belay station we begin rappelling down.

From my experiences learning trad lead and other technical skills I have come to realize that I need to be patient with myself and my learning process as well as allowing others to do so. Thank you to the mentors out there, thank you to the patient, and thank you for your acceptance.

Some of "The Crew"
Some of “The Crew”

Thank you to Mik for providing me with these pictures!

One thought on “Learning to Fly

  • My dear Amanda, your awesome adventures take my breath away… I admire your goals, your focus, your grit, even as I draw in a fearful breath. As Grandpa says, anything can be risky, even going out the door. People thought he was too daring learning how to fly at 14. I send prayers for safety daily on the wind.
    Love to you.
    Gram and Grampa.

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